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VIRUS DIARY: Starting a life, as life withdraws around her

May 18, 2020 GMT
In this May 13, 2020, photo, a "Joy" sign hangs on the wall of Associated Press News Associate Haleluya Hadero's bedroom in Atlanta. It is often the first thing she sees when she gets up every morning. (AP Photo/Haleluya Hadero)
In this May 13, 2020, photo, a "Joy" sign hangs on the wall of Associated Press News Associate Haleluya Hadero's bedroom in Atlanta. It is often the first thing she sees when she gets up every morning. (AP Photo/Haleluya Hadero)

ATLANTA (AP) — In December, I sat in a Manhattan building booming with shouts of praise and listened intently as a speaker from my church spoke about the end of the decade. A large crowd took in his excitement about the coming year, but in between sounds of piano melodies and soft taps of drums, he mentioned a word that, in a few months, I would find myself grappling with.

Joy.

The word was on my mind as I packed a large black suitcase, hopped on a plane and left New York City in March to start my first real job in Atlanta. It would be my first time living alone, and living further south than Washington, D.C.

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In the month leading up to the move, I suffered the anxieties that come with stepping into the unknown: What will this be like? Will it be worth it? What if I don’t like it?

Despite the mysteries, I stepped out in faith. A friend who had spent time in Atlanta called to give me a list of things I needed to do once I arrived: take strolls through Spelman College, visit different churches and of course, be social. I wrote down her advice, making a mental note to attend as many events as I could in Atlanta to make the move easier.

But life is funny. As the virus swept the world, my plans were swept up with it.

A distant relative I’d never met brought his white van to pick me up from an Atlanta airport in mid March. He was older, most likely in his 70s. As I approached him, he apologized for not being able to shake my hand. He told me his adult children had instructed him not to leave the house, but he wanted to pick me up since I was new to the city.

I told him not to worry about the handshake. After some time, he dropped me off at my new apartment. I dropped my luggage across the charcoal floors and began to assemble my bed, the only major piece of furniture I have in my tiny abode. Well into the digital age, I’m still reluctant about making big purchases online.

Two days later, I went to my first day of work in a largely bare office.

Since then, I have worked from home, mostly with coworkers I have never met in person. Work has gone well, but the virus’ impact on life beyond my career has sparked a battle for joy in my largely empty apartment.

A battle for joy when my father called to let me know he was laid off. A battle for joy while living isolated. A battle for joy when the closest I have gotten to the socially eventful weekends I imagined in Atlanta have been my weekly grocery trips. A battle for joy when I heard that my New York pastor, who had taught me to put my joy outside of life circumstances, had tested positive for the coronavirus.

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I find myself often retreating to prayer, trying to lay grasp of this joy that sees beyond disappointments and unmet desires. Drilling deeper into a faith that circumstances cannot move.

A month after I arrived in Atlanta, I came across a “Joy” sign as I pushed a cart through a socially-distanced Target. I picked it up, and after the Uber ride back to my apartment, I drilled the gold words into the wall in front of my bed.

It’s the first thing I see when I get up every morning.

___

“Virus Diary,” an occasional feature, showcases the coronavirus saga through the eyes of Associated Press journalists around the world. See previous entries here. Follow AP South Desk news associate Haleluya Hadero on Twitter at http://twitter.com/masayett

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